The do-or-die energy was palpable in Memorial Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon as the Vanderbilt Commodores (19-16) and Dayton Flyers (24-11) left everything on the floor in the second round of the NIT. Forty minutes wasn’t enough to decide these teams’ fates as, tied at 63, the teams headed for overtime. And in those five minutes it was Scotty Pippen Jr., Quentin Millora-Brown and Liam Robbins who came up with the plays necessary to help Vanderbilt move on. The Commodores took care of the Flyers 70-68 in a thriller that few inside Memorial will soon forget.
Head coach Jerry Stackhouse got 32 points and seven assists from his All-SEC guard, who also set a single-season record for points in a season by a Commodore, clearing the 700 mark in the outing. He also did not issue a single turnover in 43 minutes of playing time—a gutsy performance for the star of the Stackhouse era.
Millora-Brown finished plus-18 in 22 minutes off the bench, grabbing six rebounds and scoring six points in the process. But numerous hustle plays and a big-time defensive effort at the other end made his performance even more impressive.
“[Our bigs] played well late,” senior guard Rodney Chatman. “They were a big factor of the stops we got late. Without them, we probably don’t win that game.”
And after Millora-Brown fouled out, Robbins checked in and sealed the deal for the Commodores. As a team, the Commodores shot just 2-of-6 from the free-throw line in the extra five minutes, but he grabbed a pair of big offensive rebounds and had the eventual game-winning bucket with a putback.
“He stayed engaged, stayed in the game,” Stackhouse said. “Liam didn’t practice one day this week…You aren’t always going to have your best night but if you stay engaged and stay about the team the way he is, good things happen.”
From start to finish, Pippen Jr. controlled the flow of the game. Through chippiness, physicality and high-quality shots, he was to help his team prevail by scoring 10 of Vanderbilt’s final 15 points.
“Scotty Pippen was unbelievable. Whenever it seemed like they were trying to get some separation, he just stepped up and made play after play,” Stackhouse said. “And when he wasn’t making plays for himself he was making plays for others—he had seven assists tonight. Just an all-around good game.”
After Dayton struck first with six early points, Vanderbilt exploded for a 15-2 run in the first half catalyzed by its backcourt. Against his former team, Rodney Chatman hit two early 3s and Pippen Jr. tallied seven of his 32 points before the second media timeout. The two ran the show all afternoon for the Commodores, hitting a combined six 3s.
Dayton countered with a 12-0 run of their own, most of which happened with Wright and Myles Stute on the bench. Vanderbilt slogged through a seven-minute scoring drought during that stretch that Pippen Jr. finally snapped just before the final media timeout of the half. Still, the damage was done as Dayton entered the locker room leading 26-25.
The teams traded punches early in the second half before Vanderbilt’s defense used a few Flyer turnovers to take the lead. Both teams boast top-40 defenses, and the Commodores flexed that to the tune of 12 points off Dayton turnovers and took a 48-40 lead after an 8-0 run just before the under-eight media timeout.
A four-minute Vanderbilt scoring drought after the run let the Flyers right back in. Forward Daron Holmes II was a problem for the Commodores down the stretch but he was matched shot-for-shot by Pippen Jr. to extend the game. The Commodore guard scored eight of his team’s final 10 points in regulation, and a steal by Wright on Dayton’s final possession almost let the Commodores seal it in regulation. But Wright was blocked at the rim by Holmes to send the game to overtime.
Wright got early revenge in the extra session, though, hitting a big 3—his first field goal of the game—to put Vanderbilt up four at the three-minute mark of overtime. Pippen Jr. had a chance to put the Commodores up six with two minutes remaining, but failed to convert on a pair of free throws, allowing Dayton to tie things back up at 68 with 1:20 to go before Robbins closed the door.
With the win, Vanderbilt has tied its most wins since the 2014-15 season. The Commodores will now take on Xavier, who beat Florida on Sunday, in the NIT Quarterfinals at a time and date TBD. If they were to win that game, they would head to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Semifinals.
“We want it bad. We all came in together expecting to win this whole NIT. I think at the end of the day, making it to New York is in all our minds,” Pippen Jr. said. “It’s a great group of guys. We are all dedicated to winning. One more game and we know we are there so we are excited about that.”